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PresidentsOpen letter to the President of the Republic of Mauritius

Dear Madam President

Contrary to popular belief, the role of the President is NOT a largely ceremonial one. Section 31 of the Constitution states:

(1) There shall be a Parliament for Mauritius, which shall consist of the President and a National Assembly.

The UK’s Parliament, upon which our democracy is modelled, also has two parts: the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The House of Lords scrutinises Bills passed by the House of Commons and regularly asks the House of Commons to reconsider them. Since our National Assembly is the equivalent of the House of Commons, the President is equivalent to the House of Lords. This is a significant responsibility for one person to bear and is why you are paid more than the Prime Minister. Are you up to the task?

Prevention of Terrorism Act

Reinforcing the above, Section 45 of the Constitution states:

(1) The power of Parliament to make laws shall be exercisable by Bills passed by the Assembly and assented to by the President.
(2) (a) Subject to paragraphs (b) and (c), where a Bill is submitted to the President for assent in accordance with this Constitution, he shall signify that he assents or that he withholds assent.
(b) The President shall not withhold assent under paragraph (a) –

(i) in the case of a Bill which makes provision for any of the purposes specified in section 54 [Finance Bills];
(ii) in the case of a Bill which amends any provision of the Constitution and which is certified by the Speaker as having complied with the requirements of section 47;
(iii) in the case of any other Bill, unless he is of opinion, acting in his own deliberate judgement, that the Bill including any proposed amendment thereto, should be reconsidered by the Assembly.

In 2002, then President, Cassam Uteem, chose to resign rather than assent to the Prevention of Terrorism Bill becoming an Act of Parliament. The Deputy President followed suit. Both were praised for their integrity. Would you have done the same?

At the time, then Prime Minister, Sir Anerood Jugnauth is reported to have said:

“People have nothing to fear from the Prevention of Terrorism [Act], which will only be applied against real terrorists.”

If the allegations by Ish Sookun are true, following his recent arrest and detention under this Act, then the Prime Minister’s words have proved to be blatantly false. We do have everything to fear from a police force, apparently easily influenced by politicians of the day, that has too wide-ranging discretionary powers. Many have argued that the Good Governance and Integrity Reporting Act, to which you recently gave your assent, could be equally abused. Did you fulfil your Constitutional duty and scrutinise it fully?

The unjust judge

As I explained to you in my previous letter, it has been publicly alleged in a court of law that the Director of Public Prosecutions has victimised me. Yet the Chief Justice has not responded to my repeated complaint. Does he believe that by ignoring the issue it will go away? The Bible tells a parable of an old woman who sought justice from an unjust judge. After initially rejecting her demands, he eventually relented, not because he suddenly gained a conscience, but because he was afraid of being worn out by her persistence.

While I will not trouble you again with this matter, I am perplexed as to why you have not replied to my grievance. It would be easy to speculate that a certain (political) party might be keeping it in reserve to ensure that the DPP is more “accommodating” in the future. Is such Machiavellian behaviour unknown in Mauritian politics? If you knew, would you object?

In the Nation’s best interests

I suspect you have pondered if you were elected President primarily to distract the population from the appalling lack of female representation in the governing coalition; to be a compliant rubber stamp rather than a vocal critic of the government like your predecessor. If so, you need not remain that way. Now that you understand your Constitutional duties, why not avail yourself of the collective wisdom of the Bar Council? Or seek the advice of previous Presidents? But choose ones who, like Cassam Uteem, have respected their role, rather than those who used it to further a partisan agenda.

While jurisprudence is not your field of specialisation, you clearly have a brilliant mind. Unlike the House of Lords, you cannot introduce new legislation, however, a patriotic député of the National Assembly can present a Private Member’s Bill. Alternatively, it’s a long time since we had a referendum. The British parliamentary system has proven to be less than ideal for a small island state like ours. We are too easily dominated by dynasties, at the expense of meaningful change and meritocracy. It is not in the interests of the political elite to fundamentally alter this, unless under the pressure of unprecedented public opinion. Why not devote your Presidency to discover and popularise a re-envisioning of our democracy, fit for the 21st century?

Finally, may I respectfully suggest that you do not seek re-election? At the end of your mandate, gracefully retire and, with your generous pension, work for the good of the country – doing what you do best: looking for ways to exploit the region’s unique biodiversity. In this way, you can help establish the integrated knowledge, medical and innovation hub for the country, which the Government cancelled in favour of building new offices for themselves. Is it not your destiny to create a new economic pillar that has genuine social purpose and enduring global value?

Dr Richard L Munisamy [Published in le Mauricien on 16th March 2016]

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